How Detroit Got Its Groove Back

The city’s convention and visitors bureau announced hotel and convention bookings are up significantly for the next two years—the result of a hard-fought effort to elevate Detroit’s image.

Detroit may be dealing with bankruptcy, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at its convention and hotel room bookings for the next couple of years.

We had to work extremely hard to convince customers that Detroit is operating and is suitable for major conventions.

They’re up 208 percent for 2014 and 2015 compared to 2013, the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau announced last week.

Why the big jump? It’s the result of a unified effort in the city’s hospitality industry to overcome perceptions of Detroit as a bankrupt city, said Bill Bohde, DMCVB’s senior vice president of sales and marketing.

“We had to work extremely hard to convince customers that Detroit is operating and is suitable for major conventions, and there are many things we’ve done to make that happen,” Bohde said. “It’s through the efforts of the CVB and the entire hospitality community that have worked very hard to achieve these types of numbers. Did we expect that at the beginning of the year? Absolutely not. But it’s all come together nicely for us, and we have significant business in the pipeline that could enhance those numbers in future years.”

Specifically, Bohde attributed the increase to three things: a new marketing campaign, dubbed “Detroit, America’s Great Comeback City”; a $279 million renovation of Cobo Center, the city’s convention facility; and continual development of downtown Detroit.

“Many people are moving downtown, and new businesses are starting up—it’s beginning to change people’s perceptions of what Detroit really is all about,” Bohde said. “There’s great acceptance of that when people come to town, and there’s great word-of-mouth when people come to town and go back to tell colleagues that Detroit is coming back slowly but surely.”

DMCVB confirmed that 236,000 room nights have been booked for 2014. That’s up from 129,000 in 2013. Metro Detroit is also scheduled to host 12 hotel meetings in 2014—more than twice the number hosted in 2013. The CVB also confirmed that its booking pace is ahead for 2014 through 2018.

Upcoming scheduled events include the Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses International District Assembly in June and July 2014 with a scheduled 90,000 attendees and the USA Volleyball Open National Championships in May 2015 with an expected 10,000 attendees.

Detroit River, shown along the city's RiverWalk. (photo via Visit Detroit's Flickr page)

Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

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